Wanna Do Research on the Afterlife? Here, Have $5,000,000

I’m gonna save the Templeton Foundation and Professor John Martin Fischer a lot of time and money:

There’s no evidence of an afterlife and no amount of research is going to change that.

They won’t listen to me, of course, which is why Fischer just received a $5,000,000 grant (over three years) to study the afterlife:

Professor John Martin Fischer

Anecdotal reports of glimpses of an afterlife abound, but there has been no comprehensive and rigorous, scientific study of global reports about near-death and other experiences, or of how belief in immortality influences human behavior. That will change with the award of a three-year, $5 million grant by the John Templeton Foundation to John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, to undertake a rigorous examination of a wide range of issues related to immortality…

“We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions,” Fischer said. “Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We’re not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports. We will look at near-death experiences and try to find out what’s going on there — what is promising, what is nonsense, and what is scientifically debunked. We may find something important about our lives and our values, even if not glimpses into an afterlife.”

Near-death experiences don’t offer plausible glimpses. It’s all nonsense. And I don’t need $5,000,000 to show that. (Though I’ll accept it if they’re just flush with money.)

Can’t wait till the follow-up studies on reincarnation.

Aaron Harmon wonders how Fischer will go about testing all this:

1. Ask people about their “near death” experiences? So they find a bunch of people who “saw a light” when they were close to death and compare their notes. How do they tell whether they are all experiencing similar trauma and therefore have similar hallucinations? Every time I have asked people about their experiences stubbing their toes, it has been similar to my own. Does that mean there is a toe stubbing fairy?

2. Ask a bunch of theologians what their books say? After the theologians get done arguing about their fairy tales, they will surely ask J.K. Rowling about the love lives of Dementors.

3. Make up a bunch of crap and then cash the check? That’s probably the most efficient method.

Jerry Coyne offers a more detailed analysis of why this grant won’t achieve its stated goals and comes to this conclusion:

In the end, this is just another waste of money by Templeton on The Big Questions, and another corruption of science — and now philosophy. Those who want this kind of money must conform to Templeton’s faith-soaked agenda, and that agenda is deeply injurious to rationality. It is the conflation of reason and woo.

But mostly woo.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Drew84

    The world’s largest industry will always think of new ways to get more money from their poor brainwashed followers. I guess the many trillions they get a year is not enough. If they want to research that crap they should use their own money.

    • JDatty

       You mean like the Scientific/Military/Industrial complex?

      There is nothing so foul that some scientist will not work on it for enough money.

      • Patterrssonn

        I think maybe Drews referring to the Religious/Military/Industrial Complex.

        There’s no lie and no hate so foul that religion won’t promote it.

  • CanadianNihilist

    I suspect the “results” will suffer from a high confirmation bias.

  • JDatty

    To an atheist who accepts the indemonstrable proposition that all existence, life, mind and reason itself are the result of undirected processes, the there is No Proof, even in principle, that they would logically need to accept.

    I.E., and proof could be related back to the above proposition.

    Can anyone give me an example of some proof that they would accept for, say, the existence of God, at least IN PRINCIPLE?

    I suggest that they cannot.

    Try.

    I will show how your proof fails, because of the indemonstable proposition noted above.

    • Heidi

       The existence of *a* god, or *your* god? Showing up would help. Passing Elijah’s Ba’al test (1 Kings 18:23-29) would help. But shouldn’t a god know how to prove itself without asking me to come up with the method?

    • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

      Can anyone give me an example of some proof that they would accept for, say, the existence of God, at least IN PRINCIPLE?

      Even though I probably shouldn’t, I’m having a lazy long weekend up here in Canada so what the hell – I’ll bite and provide a portion of my list:

      Rain or snow will never again fall upon sidewalks, roadways, or the roofs of buildings.
      Tsunamis shall always be deflected away from any inhabited place.
      Earthquakes shall never occur in any inhabited place.
      Hurricanes and Tornadoes will never touch a person or their property.
      Volcanic Eruptions will forever and always discharge non-perishable food items, said food items will never accidentally hit people or their property.
      All forms of pollution shall be instantly turned into clean air.

      There’s more, a lot more, but I think you get the drift.  An all powerful, all knowing, all seeing, omnipotent being who created the universe and who has unlimited power should have no problems doing any of that.  Doing any one of those, consistently, would violate so many natural laws that the evidence for a God doing it would be pretty damned concrete to me.

      • Donaving

        So–you would only believe in a god that only benefits people?

        What sort of lesson would be taught if all forms of pollution instantly turned into clean air? That we’re free to make any sort of mess and God would just–clean it up for us?

        As far as tsunamis–wouldn’t it just make more sense for people to just stop living where such things are prone to strike? It’s not as though they are something that just appeared out of the blue (as it were) a few years ago. We know what they are and we have a pretty good idea of where they strike and what they do, and we have since time immemorial.

        And volcanoes do spew food–it just takes a few years and we have to put some work into turning that ash into crops. 

        Would you really want to live in a world where food just rained out of the sky, the planet never changed, you were never surprised by a rainstorm, and God was nothing more than an indulgent babysitter to coddle you and give you everything you think you want, like a spoiled child holding his breath until given the shiniest toys?

        Atheists are weird.

        • LesterBallard

          You mean like “Heaven”, asshole?

          • Donaving

            Is–is that what you think Heaven is?

            Well, you’re welcome to it.

            • LesterBallard

              Oh, please, fucking enlighten us on what Heaven is really like.

              • Donaving

                For me, it’s a walk on a nice day. Or a bite of a fresh red pear from the Farmer’s Market (I just got back from the Farmer’s Market.) I try and find a bit of Heaven wherever I can.

                Please fucking enlighten me on what you think Heaven is really like (and not just what you assume that someone else believes.)

                I’ll take my answer off the air, as it’s a beautiful day and I’m going to go for a walk.

                • LesterBallard

                  That’s not Heaven; that’s life. You know what Heaven/afterlife is like? You see that big pile of non-existence? That’s what Heaven is like. That’s what the afterlife is like.

                • Donaving

                  Okay. Thanks for setting me straight.

                • LesterBallard

                  Come on, tell us more about how people who live in areas with tsunamis and earthquakes and hurricanes should just move.

                • Donaving

                  I didn’t say they should just move. I said that we know that tsunamis strike certain areas, and yet we live there. We know what to expect, and  it’s absurd to suggest that making those areas suddenly tsunami-proof as the sign of a Loving God.

                  Those that live in those areas are under constant threat of catastrophe–anyone who lives anywhere has to face the fact that catastrophe could strike at any time. That’s life.

                  But we also have to understand that there’s also beauty in those places, and that’s why we live where we live.

                  I was being a little facetious, but apparently that didn’t translate well.

                  (I also didn’t mean the statement that Atheists are weird to be pejorative–we’re all weird. If you’re not, then God help you.)

                  That’s all for today.
                  You guys are fun!

                • machintelligence

                  Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens. 
                  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zNdMc6wGtU
                  At least according to the Talking Heads.

            • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

              He’s not saying he specifically believes those things about heaven. He’s just pointing out that heaven is supposed to be a perfect place where nothing bad ever happens. AKA a world where “God was nothing more than an indulgent babysitter to coddle you and give you everything you think you want, like a spoiled child holding his breath until given the shiniest toys.”

              I’m really intrigued about how you can imagine a perfect place that wasn’t what you just made fun of.

              • Donaving

                I have to go to work, but, briefly:

                I never said anything about Heaven or an Afterlife (I’m agnostic about both). The most perfect place that I can imagine is the world that we have now and, yes, terrible things happen, but also wonderful things.

                Anyone who lives cowering in fear of the bad things–or fails to understand that we’re just a small part of everything is going to be sad and angry all the time, and i don’t want to be like that. So I try and look for the good.

                But go back, please–I never said anything about Heaven. I never said anything about a perfect place or anything–I just pointed out that I thought some of what the original poster said is a bit absurd. That is all.

                • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

                  Whatever. You managed to confuse everyone here by arguing something that you actually have no opinion about.
                  Rob U was talking about a hypothetical perfect world and you mocked it…because it was too perfect. But that’s what a perfect world is. I don’t believe in a perfect world, but it seems strange to mock someone’s idea of what a hypothetical perfect world would be, unless of course they actually believe it, which Rob doesn’t.

        • Marguerite

          Lester makes a valid and interesting point. What you’ve just described sounds much like the usual view of Heaven. Why do we need to be challenged on Earth for a tiny little handful of years, but then coddled and spoiled in Heaven for the rest of eternity? Why is it good to be forced to work and suffer on Earth for a brief lifetime, but to then bask in Heaven’s perfection eternally? Why would God want us to experience a maximum of eighty or ninety years of struggle, and then billions and billions of years of nothing but peace and joy and perfection?

          “As far as tsunamis–wouldn’t it just make more sense for people to just stop living where such things are prone to strike?”

          Natural disasters occur virtually everywhere. Should we permanently evacuate the entire East coast of the US due to hurricanes, or all of the Midwest due to tornadoes, or the West coast due to earthquakes?  

          • Earl G.

            There’s nowhere to evacuate to to get away from disease, accidents, and bodily decay.

        • Earl G.

          Yeah, it makes much more sense for a merciful, loving god to create cancer, encourage holy wars, and let millions of children starve to death.  

          If you like this god you made up, you’re the weird one.

        • LesterBallard

          Oh, it’s about  “learning lessons”. That’s what all the suffering is for. And of course people can just up and move from where tsunamis or earthquakes or hurricanes strike. They all have the means for that. 

          • Miss_Beara

            Don’t you realize that GOD is testing each and every one of us with his “life lessons”? We poor sinners should not be coddled by such an all loving and all powerful and all omnipotent thing such as GOD! If we get cancer? TO BAD! If our community is destroyed by natural disasters? TOUGH! If you get raped or violently injured? IT IS PART OF HIS GLORIOUS PLAN SINCE HE HAS GIVEN US FREE WILL! You pray and pray and pray to Him to take your illness away and He doesn’t? HE WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS!

            • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

              What a great and awesome GOD he is!  Where can I sign up for a lifetime of blind servitude and groveling for this wonderful being?   I live in Texas… there must be a church around here somewhere….

        • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

          So–you would only believe in a god that only benefits people?

          The question was what it would take to get me to believe in God, not what kind of God it would be.  Breaking fundamental natural laws in a way that shows intelligence would certainly do it.

          Just imagine how definitive the proof would be if canned goods came flying out of an active volcano and intelligently diverted themselves away from people or their property.  Or for raindrops and snowflakes to hit an invisible barrier over the sidewalks, roadways, and roofs and bounce harmlessly onto the grass.  Or Tsunamis to route themselves around people’s homes.  Or people gleefully running around in the funnel cloud of a Tornado without harm.

          Hell, make my shit instantly turn into Smarties filled with scrumptious Lindt chocolate and turn my piss into Diet Pepsi!

          Show me something, ANYTHING, that violates the quantified laws of nature gathered over thousands of years of empirical observation and collected evidence.  Show me something “Godlike” and I’ll take that as conclusive proof that Gods exists.

          Then once we know they exist, we can ask them what kind of God it is.

          • http://profile.yahoo.com/47IDX2QAR6VU6ZAILFU6I23ACQ Joseph

             But GOD has suspended natural fundamental laws of nature — many times — haven’t you read the BIBLE?  Except for turning your shit and piss into delicious treats, he’s done a lot of other amazing things.  Isn’t the word of GOD proof enough for you?  ;-)

            • phantomreader42

              The bible is a poorly-written work of fiction.  If your god were real, it would be able to act here, and now, in the REAL world.  The fact that you have to resort to centuries-old myths shows that you don’t have any evidence of such intervention.

              • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

                Umm…  Didn’t you see that winky smiley face thingy.  ;-)

                Unless you forgot to put your own winky smiley face thingy at the end of it.  ;-)

        • phantomreader42

           Donaving, desperately fleeing from any suggestion that evidence is needed before mindlessly worshiping the invisible man in the sky: “Would you really want to live in a world where food just rained out of the sky

          Incidentally, according to the bible (chapter 16 of the book of exodus, specifically), we DO live in such a world.  According to the holy books of three religions, food WILL rain down out of the sky if god feels like making it happen.  Since it doesn’t do so, it looks like he just prefers to watch children starve to death.  What an asshole!  Lucky for everyone it’s not real. 

      • Beaujames1954

        If any of those things happened in my presence, I think I would suspect that I had become psychotic.  And then paranoia would make me think that everyone else was pretending to see it,  just to mess with my head.  I am not easily convinced, even by good evidence.  :)

        • http://twitter.com/WCLPeter Rob U

          If any of those things happened in my presence, I think I would suspect that I had become psychotic.

          That’s why I asked for “big” things.  I know if I personally saw the raindrops bounce off an invisible barrier and fall on the grass I’d think I was going crazy too, if 6 billion plus people saw the same thing I’d know something was actually happening.

    • LesterBallard

      Well, I think I would have accepted the proof that Thomas got.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6OE7LEYELE4MZTVXGZUSVTBFUI julie

      It’s not like we believe “all existence, life, mind and reason itself are the result of undirected processes” just because we decided one day that that was what we really wanted to believe, and that we wouldn’t accept any evidence to the contrary.
      It’s just that there’s never been any evidence to the contrary. 

      Can you give me an example of proof you would accept for the existence of Zeus?
      I’m sure you could think of a few things that might convince you, but it’s pointless because you already know he doesn’t exist. A huge, powerful god that interacts with humanity is hard to miss, yet somehow we missed him.

      If God came down to me (and other people at the same time, so I knew I wasn’t crazy) and did a bunch of miracles or whatever, sure, I might believe. But he doesn’t do that. He can’t even manage simple things, like bringing rain to the Colorado fires. He hasn’t done what he’s specifically said in numerous verses; he doesn’t listen to prayers. Prayer makes absolutely no difference. The god described in the bible clearly does not exist, and I have never seen any proof that other gods exist either.

      John 14:13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 
      Lol Jesus, good one!

    • phantomreader42

      Ah, yet another of these assholes who whine “you wouldn’t accept a miracle even if I showed you one”, then refuse to even pretend to show anything remotely resembling a miracle.  I’m so sick and tired of these lying sacks of shit.   I know there’s no chance of JDatty even pretending to address this honestly, but here’s my standard demand for divine evidence, complete with biblical citations.  It’ll be amusing to watch JDatty flee in abject terror from it while babbling incoherent nonsense.

      JDatty, Matthew 21:22 says that ANYTHING a true believer asks for in
      prayer will be granted, no exceptions. You claim to be a true believer,
      you claim there are such things as miracles, you claim your god can do magic. So prove it.

      Autoimmune diseases are painful,
      debilitating, and currently incurable. They are not caused by a pathogen
      but by a flaw in the immune system, causing it to attack the body’s own
      tissues. They can lead to advancing disability, deformity, and death in
      adults, and have been known to render infants permanently blind. We’re
      talking about people in agony through no fault of their own, because
      their bodies are betraying them, which if there truly were an
      all-powerful god would imply it was grossly incompetent.

      So, JDatty, pray that every person with an autoimmune disorder be completely
      cured, and all damage to their bodies painlessly repaired, all within
      one week of the appearance of this post. If you pray for this, and it
      happens, then I will accept that your god is real, and consider the
      possibility that it might not be wholly evil. But if you refuse to even
      try, then you admit that even you don’t believe the book of mythology
      you worship, and that you are a worthless sociopath, devoid of
      compassion.

      You have one week. Clock starts now, JDatty. Pray to heal the sick, or admit that prayer is a waste of time.  Current date is Sunday, August 5, 2012.  Current time is 1622 Eastern.  You have 168 hours to prove that you’re something other than a worthless, delusional, lying sack of shit.

      • phantomreader42

        It’s been more than an entire day, and JDatty is too much of a coward to address any of the responses to his bullshit.  Five days, seventeen hours, and three minutes left!

        • phantomreader42

          Another day goes by, and JDatty is still too busy cowering in terror, pissing himself and crying, to even pretend to address any of the responses to his idiotic lies.  Four days, eighteen hours, and thirty-three minutes left!  

    • http://twitter.com/InMyUnbelief TCC

      How about you tell us what would falsify the God hypothesis first?

  • Guest

    From an intellectual viewpoint, isn’t this sort of, well, OK?  I mean, we have no evidence – yet.  But maybe there is and we just haven’t found it.  Don’t we want to ‘know’?  I mean, if I don’t want to do research, then it must mean I don’t want to know, that I’ve already made up my mind, and I no longer want to pursue any other research.  I say bring it on, and if they can demonstrate something, then it’s time to rethink the modern models of reality.  No problem there.  I can’t blast religious people for being against trying to work out their beliefs, and then turn around and blast religious people for trying to work out their beliefs.  At that point, I’m simply a fundamentalist of a different stripe.

    • Reginald Selkirk

       Of course we want to “know.” So we need some evidence. The only kind that would be reliable is scientific evidence. So they’re giving this wad of cash to a philosopher?
      .
      And if did give money to a scientist to research life after death, could you please give some idea of how you think he would go about obtaining reliable scientific evidence?
      .
      Science also involves knowing what evidence is already available. The evidence we have already gives no reason to believe that there is life after death.

      • Guest

        Science does not involve knowing what evidence is already available, as if that’s the end of the road.  If that were the case, we’d still be pondering life beyond square wheels.  I’m ready for the proof, and also to see if there are other pathways to verify truth.  To imagine that we’ve hit the top regarding how to understand reality would be the height of arrogance, and the stuff of future jokes.  I’m not saying this bundle of money will be well spent, but I’m willing to see and change my attitudes if the evidence points in that direction.

        • Reginald Selkirk

          Science does not involve knowing what evidence is already available, as
          if that’s the end of the road.  If that were the case, we’d still be
          pondering life beyond square wheels.

          I cannot make any sense of your example.

          • 3lemenope

            In other words, there is conundrum when expanding the borders of already known science into an entirely new area, in that one can’t have a prior completely exhaustive definition of what counts as evidence for a given hypothesis, because there is no way prior to messy empirical exploration to know anything about what might confirm or falsify any hypothesis in the general subject. One might even say that the process of moving from protoscience to science is one of figuring out (from rather wilder empirical exploration) what those parameters are, so that falsification criteria and observational theories can be established under which a proper scientific hypothesis can be formed.

            Personally in this particular case I wouldn’t even go so far as to say explorations into life-after-death qualify as protoscience (for a whole host of reasons), but it’s not entirely crazy to think that it does, and if a person thinks that it does it reasonably follows that the first order of business is to poke it with a stick in as many ways as one can think of and see what falls out, as a necessary prerequisite for more rigorous explorations down the road.

            • Patterrssonn

              Except that without rigor you have no way to determine what constitutes evidence. And if all your doing is putting on a show to cover up an exercise in word games, what’s the point?

              • 3lemenope


                Except that without rigor you have no way to determine what constitutes evidence. 

                Not so. At the beginning stages of a scientific paradigm, experimentation takes on the character of a “shotgun approach”, if you will. As a result of that rather less restrained and rigorous approach, and using a heuristic that philosophers and historians of science have been struggling to formally describe ever since science has existed, it becomes fairly intuitively apparent which approaches are likely to be fruitful and which ones aren’t. Then the next stage starts, with scientists harnessing these beginning leads by applying rigor.  Since science, the vast majority of the time, in the vast majority of its subdivisions, is being done in this second stage, sometimes it is easy to forget the stage that preceded it.

                And if all your doing is putting on a show to cover up an exercise in word games, what’s the point?

                It’s not clear what exactly you’re referring to, here. Can you be more specific?

                • Reginald Selkirk

                   Sorry, I cannot agree with Guest and 3lemenope here. Science most certainly involves knowing about the current state of research. It would be fruitless to re-investigate whether the Earth is flat, for example. You need to know what evidence has been gathered, and what explanations have been put forward to explain it. This in no way obligates you to refrain from collecting new evidence, nor putting forward new explanations, but if your efforts are oblivious to what has already been done, you are not likely to accomplish anything more than embarrassing yourself.

                • Reginald Selkirk

                   Look elsewhere in this thread for a link I gave to an experiment on a woman with Out Of Body Experience. If all you do is collate a bunch of anecdotes from people who claim they were really alive when declared medically dead, you are going to miss this, which is the closest thing to a controlled experiment ever done on the topic. And you will miss out on some good scientific evidence that provides a prosaic, natural explanation.

                  Know the current state of the evidence.

                • 3lemenope

                  As I said in my original post on the topic, I don’t think investigations of the sort that Templeton is bankrolling regarding OOBE is science, nor is it even protoscience. The list of reasons why is long and fairly boring. 

                  What I was responding to was Guest’s general point about new science, esp. regarding new scientific approaches and disciplines. On that, I think he is unambiguously correct, and the history of science as a discipline bears it out.

                • Patterrssonn

                  I’m sorry but in what way does dragging this poor old dead horse out of its grave and laying on another round of beating represent the beginning of a “new scientific paradigm”?

                • 3lemenope

                  As I said in my original comment, I don’t think this particular investigation qualifies. I was defending the general point that Guest made, not its applicability to this specific case.

                • Patterrssonn

                  Sorry not buying that, but rereading your post it seems likely that you just missed the woo in Guests statement and them got carried away.

                • 3lemenope

                  You can buy or not whatever you wish. I clearly stated in the original post that I didn’t and don’t think the argument applies to the specific case. And where is the woo in Guest’s post? All he/she said, besides the square wheel metaphor, was that it is silly to think that this age has a monopoly on truth. He’s/She’s right about that too. Guest too was skeptical about whether this particular expenditure was reasonable.

                  What we are both addressing (apparently in vain) is the attitude that because something doesn’t match current understanding it is necessarily illegitimate. There are good historical and philosophical reasons to think that such a narrow approach to investigating reality is an extremely poor one.

                • Patterrssonn

                  The woo marker for me is the use of the new age phrase “other pathways to verify truth”. If Guest isn’t referring to woo, what are they referring to? Also the strawmanning of RS adds a certain amount of woo quotient.

                • 3lemenope

                  Response is at the bottom of the thread, because the line splits are getting out of control. :)

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      Here’s how it works in the world of real science. Somebody has an idea about something. They think of a way that they could put the idea to a test. They write a grant proposal, which is reviewed for soundness by one or more experts in the field, and if the project is sound, funds are granted to do the research… often in several phases, so that progress can be examined as a condition of additional funding.

      It sounds like this guy is getting a ton of money to collect yet more anecdotal reports and host conferences to discuss them. That’s not science, and there’s no reason to think that we’ll know anything more about the nature of death after he’s blown through the funds. As a philosopher, he doesn’t even seem qualified to begin addressing the question. If anybody was going to do this, it should be a neuroscientist; somebody who might actually demonstrate in a rigorous way the origin of the near death experience phenomenon. It’s completely illogical to go looking for some sort of afterlife (which is completely unsupported by any evidence, and stands in contradiction to what we do know about life) before studying- from a biological perspective- the phenomenon that is claimed to support its existence.

      At best he’ll end up with a little insight into how the idea of an afterlife affects the way people live their real life. That might be interesting, but it sure isn’t a $5 million dollar social science project!

      • Guest 54

        You have to remember that ‘science’, while a valuable tool of ‘uncovery’ – for science merely helps us to [I]uncover[/I] probable explanations for that which already is – remains, by and large, a boy’s toy.

        For instance, we do not live our lives in a ‘scientific’, ‘evidential’ way – and it would be a Spock-ish horror if we did. Most of our everyday being is resolved, not by ‘scientific’ methodology, but by hunch, intuition, ‘knowing’, feeling, a certain ‘something’; wordlessness; most of what we do or think or feel is not based on ‘evidence’ ….Why do you like that car… Do you want a coffee….Is there an evidential reason you are attracted to that person…where did you get that idea from….why is green such a sh!tty shade…..where do your thoughts come from….. and so on. Lives are mostly lived far away from the need for data & experiment. Experience, in personal terms, counts for so much more.

        The cry for ‘hard evidence’ in a Universe that primarily evades ‘hard evidence’ is a shallow hope. My point is that ‘scientific’ is a limited and necessarily limiting perspective -based on its own definitions – and we deny ourselves, hugely, if we arrive at the conclusion that the ‘scientific method’ is the only (‘one true’) way of examining our existence.

    • phantomreader42

      Is there any plausible result from this “research” that would cause the people paying for it to alter their beliefs in the slightest respect?  If not, then they cannot possibly learn anything from this, because they REFUSE to. 

      Keep in mind, there are people who have claimed to have visited the afterlives of NON-CHRISTIAN religious traditions, and these experiences are not treated as evidence that those religions are true by christians who insist that Near Death Hallucinations corresponding to christian myth prove christianity true.  So non-christian afterlife “evidence” has just as much support as what christians point to as proof of their delusions.  None at all. 

  • Heidi

    For $5M I’ll study any dumbass thing they want.

    • Lurker111

       Exactly.  I’m in the wrong business.

      • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

         Call me cynical, but as much as I agree with you, I don’t think they’d pay you or me that sum.  I suspect that they’re not paying for the research so much as the results.  People have developed pretty good methods for proving one particular type of afterlife–the continuation of a consciousness after death, with the ability to contact living people–and there’s no good reason not to accept the results of those studies except that the results never turn up any evidence that those communications from the afterlife actually take place.

        They could get honest results for free, in other words, if they were diligent enough to look for them.  Paying someone to come up with a sciencey protocol that delivers at least ambiguous results is what costs millions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=609238798 Peter Eakin

    “We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions,” Fischer said. 
    “…other phenomena….” 

    Resurrections, perhaps?  I guess the failed Templeton prayer study wasn’t embarrassing enough.

    • Grazatt

       What was the Templeton prayer study?

      • Wotan Anubis

         In 2006, the Templeton Foundation funded a study on prayer on how much it helps people recover from surgery (in this case, coronary bypass surgery).

        There were three groups. Two who were told they might have been prayed for (and one of those groups was actually prayed for) and the third was told they would definitely be prayed for and were prayed for.

        The prayers were standardised and performed by congregations who had no real ties to anyone in any of the groups.

        The result?

        There was no signifcant difference between the groups in any way. Well, OK, the group wasn’t prayed for did *slightly* better than the groups who were prayed for.

        If the groups who had been prayed for recovered remarkably quicker and better than the group who hadn’t, I’m sure the religious crowd would have crowed that prayer works and that God exists.

        Since that didn’t happen, God still works in Mysterious Ways and also doesn’t show Himself to anyone at all ever because he demands faith and therefore doesn’t want to give proof.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studies_on_intercessory_prayer

        • Grazatt

           That’s freakin LAME

    • Guest

      I wrote to the investigators who performed an intercessory prayer study and asked if they would consider to study its inverse, a kind of voodoo, curse, or hex on a group of people, see how they did over time, versus a control group.

  • newavocation

    So technically he is looking to confirm that murder isn’t really murder and the religious right can abandon their fight against abortion.

    • Patterrssonn

      Are you sure you’re on the right post?

      • newavocation

        Believing in an afterlife cheapens life. Just look at all the killing done in the name of god. 
        This life is more than just a read thru – Red Hot Chili Peppers

      • Reginald Selkirk

         He is. newavocation is taking the long view to the implications which would result from evidence that the afterlife is real

  • LesterBallard

    So, who’s afterlife are we talking about? Christian? Jewish? Islamic? Hindu? Norse? Happy Hunting Ground? 

    • phantomreader42

      Whichever one Templeton believes in.  Anything which conflicts with the beliefs of the fraud paying for this will be swept under the rug.  

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically
    rigorous. We’re not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports.

    Oh that’s a reassuring commitment to credibility if I ever heard one.

    Fischer is already planting the seeds of expectation of what he’ll actually find and not find on this five million dollar “Fisching” trip: 

    We may find something important about our lives and our values, even if not glimpses into an afterlife.”

    …or of how belief in immortality influences human behavior.

    So he will find some interesting things about psychology and sociology, but zero about the actual existence of an afterlife.

    • http://www.facebook.com/gwydionfrost Daniel Parker

      The sad part…? Alien abductions actually have a higher probability of happening!

  • Octoberfurst

     I’m puzzled as to what they think will come of this. Proof of an afterlife? All I can see him doing is interviewing people about their “Near Death Expieriences” and trying to find commonalities in them.  Is the NDE of a Hindu similar to that of a Christian? Do they all see a tunnel of light, deceased loved ones and get to talk to a deity? Do Hindu’s see Krishna while Christians see Jesus?  Or do they just see a “being of light?”  And what does any of this prove?  What about people who have NDE and say they were about to be reincarnated before they were brought back to life as opposed to people who say they were on their way to Heaven or Hell?  Frankly I think this is just a stupid waste of money.

    • allein

      I think if most people see some sort of light, the most it says about us is that our brains work in similar ways under a specific type of stress (eg, lack of oxygen when close to death). I find it interesting (not really) that most people who report religously-flavored NDEs “see” things that are common to the religion they are most familiar with (see the book “Heaven is for Real,” for example).

      Also, I can’t help but think, “near-death” is not death. These people haven’t actually died. (My evidence: they are still alive to talk about it.) So they still don’t know what happens after death.

  • realphilosophers

    Either there is good evidence for an afterlife or there isn’t. (And either there is something interesting to be said about the afterlife from an ethical perspective, or there isn’t.) If there is, then it would be important to know about it. If there isn’t, then it would be important to have a $5M study showing that, since $5M can buy a lot of research. We atheists should be more confident in our beliefs about the afterlife after smart people have collected together and examined all the scientific and philosophical evidence about it. So I’m not sure what the real objection to this project, at least in principle, is supposed to be.

    When you say it’s “all” nonsense, do you mean everything about immortality and the afterlife that the project will study? That’s an extremely substantial claim, of course, one that would require a lot of evidence.

    • machintelligence

      Templeton Foundation is the same bunch that dropped more than $3M on a double blind and carefully controlled study of intercessory prayer that found no (or slightly negative) effects. 
      http://www.templeton.org/pdfs/articles/060331Reuters.pdf
      It is their money, but surely there are better uses for it, since the results will convince no one to change their opinions.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      “philosophical evidence”

      You made a funny. Ha ha!

    • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

       No, it’s really not.  The claim that any of it exists is a huge claim with no evidence.  The negative claim is bolstered by the total absence of any evidence.  It’s not proven, but it’s a strong claim.

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      There is no evidence for an afterlife- not even weak evidence. Zero. And that is significant in itself, given how long people have been looking for it.

      There’s no such thing as philosophical evidence. Any scientific evidence needs to come from a scientist- somebody trained to actually study the brain during near death or out of body experiences. This money is being thrown in a pretty useless direction.

    • Michael

      Here is the problem.  THERE IS NO EVIDENCE suggesting an afterlife might exist.  As a scientist, I must work hard to demonstrate that my proposals are based on credible evidence.  That there is a chance of success… or al least of learning something new.  Here, we have a lot of money that could go to a better use.  If that still doesn’t  convince you, replace afterlife with, “santa claus”, “easter bunny”, or “chupacabra”.  They have just as much merit (meaning none) as a 5 million dollar poorly designed and biased study compiling a worthless heap of anecdotal evidence.

      • Guest 54

        “THERE IS NO EVIDENCE” is the worst cop-out of all. It means you haven’t sought it, nor accepted as ‘evidence’ prima faciae witness testimony, nor accepted, as evidence, knowledge that presents itself by different means than logic, ‘reason’ or black & white thinking.

         ‘Atheism’ is the worst cop-out of all; it is the easy road. Block it all out – and then you need not be concerned, nor look any further. I am not coming from a ‘religious’ perspective in saying that, BTW, just that my observation and experience tells ME thtat atheism is an easy, soft cop-out.

        I agree with you when you say that you must “work hard to demonstrate that my proposals are based on credible evidence”, for that is the lot of the material scientist.

        My complaint is that, in dealing with the subject of -say – consciousness, we are dealing with the immaterial; and you want your material rules to apply to that. What of the probability that your rules do NOT apply to that?

  • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

    By the time I’m finished with my DVM program, I’ll be a quarter million in student loan debt. And I’m planning on going into lab animal medicine at a research facility. If they’ve five million in disposable cash to throw at research, send 1/20 of it my way.  I guarantee you I’ll do more good with it than this study.

    • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

       You are braver than I.  I think my throat closed up when I read “quarter million in student loan debt.”

      • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

         The average for any vet student these days is about $150,000. I’m just one of the lucky thousands of us who couldn’t get into one of the 28 vet schools in the U.S. (yes, you read that correctly – only slightly over one school per two states) and had to find another option. Caribbean living for two and a half years and forever in debt, that’s the life for me!

        • http://www.facebook.com/gmillar Gavin Millar

          Wouldn’t it be easier just to go to medical school?

          • http://profiles.google.com/julielada Julie Lada

             If I had any interest at all in working on human patients, sure.

  • Anon

    I would gladly accept a $5 million three year grant to study the afterlife. And although my research may bare a strong resemblance to me playing Civilization 5 for 3 years, I assure you that in the end the research will be on the highest difficulty… I mean the “of the highest quality”. 

    • http://www.theaunicornist.com Mike D

       I may even be able research future tech for them…

  • anon101

    I would not be so hard on this. If I remember correctly it was a Templeton founded study that demonstrated conclusively that prayer don’t work. Therefore if that research is conducted well, there will be more indisputable evidence that there is on afterlife.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      If I remember correctly it was a Templeton founded study that demonstrated conclusively that prayer don’t work.

      So did the Mayo Clinic study. And the Duke University study. And every other study of intercessory prayer ever done that was large enough to be statistically significant, designed well enough to find a relevant result, and not fraudulent. Part of science is knowing what evidence is already available before you design your own experiment.

      • 3lemenope

        A larger part of science is repeating experiments done by others (repeatedly, ad nauseam) to confirm or dispute the results obtained. It doesn’t exactly hurt anyone to check again, and occasionally something surprising emerges.

        • Reginald Selkirk

           To repeat: they are not giving the money to a scientist, they are giving it to a philosopher.

          • 3lemenope

            To repeat: I know that. See my comment further up the thread, esp. my original post, as to why the general point that Guest and I were making does not apply to this particular case.

            And not for nothing, but you’re awfully snarky about philosophy, esp. laughing at the concept of philosophical evidence, which indicates to me that you don’t have a great handle on how evidence plays a role in philosophy. It plays a *different* role than it does in science, and not for nothing but the concept of evidence itself is more rigorously examined in philosophy than it ever is in science (who have more of a functional relationship with the concept).

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Therefore if that research is conducted well, there will be more indisputable evidence that there is on afterlife.

      Give this some thought. I don’t think such evidence is possible. You could make a pretty good case the NDEs are not evidence of an afterlife. You could do some neuroscience and make a good case that nothing supernatural is required to explain the operation of the human brain. But to prove there is no afterlife? I’d like to hear you describe what sort of experiment could possibly do that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

    I would have gotten this done for $4.8 million tops, but I guess they lost my number.  In fact, I’m a simple man with simple needs, and I bet I could have done it for $4.5 million or so. 
    But you get what you pay for, right?

    • Reginald Selkirk

       $4.4M, and I’ll throw in a sophisticated statistical analysis.

  • Gábor Biró

    Oh come on, it’s Templeton money. It was going to be wasted anyway. Plus, the guy needs to make a living.
    I like how he stresses the point, that he won’t research afterlife itself, but “the complexities involved in simple beliefs about heaven, hell and reincarnation”. I bet he’s thinking “hm, here’s a bunch of money from these nutjobs. I wonder how I could twist this research to get something useful out of it”.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The best ever experiment done on Out Of Body Experiences:
    Doctors create out-of-body sensationsBriefly: doctors were probing the brain of an epilepsy patient prior to surgery. When they stimulated the angular gyrus, the woman reproducibly described seeing her body as if from above. However, she was unable to see itels held so that they would be visible from above, but not from the position of her eyes. This is clear evidence that Out Of Body Experiences(OOB, OBE, OOBE), a frequent component of Near Death Experiences(NDE) may be an illusion..During most NDEs, the patient is not alert and giving feedback to the doctors, who are busy trying to save the patient’s life, not performing the controls necessary to make an experiment meaningful. Thus, collating the anecdotes of numerous NDE patients is not likely to be as scientifically meaningful as the above experiment.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    From hte UCR press release, as quoted in Jerry Coyne’s post:

    Anecdotal reports of near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences and
    past lives are plentiful, but it is important to subject these reports
    to careful analysis, Fischer said.

     Carefully analysing an anecdote does not magically turn it into meaningful scientific data. A good scientific experiment has controls. It is designed to distinguish between the relevant hypotheses. An anecdote does not share these properties.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    You got the order in (3) wrong: you cash the check FIRST, THEN write a load of crap!

  • http://twitter.com/LynnFDR LynnFDR

    I wonder if they would take my own and also my mother’s accounts of near-death experiences in which we saw/heard/experienced absolutely nothing.

  • Ian Reide

    Earlier I had the impression that this was more to research the social implications of lifex—the stuff that makes the TED people happy. However, if it is 5 huge to research angels on a cloud, then that is 5 wasted (unless some is slung in my direction—ok, whorish hypocrite).

  • Wright

    I’m with you that this research is, to say the least, not promising.  However, that does not prevent me from recommending an excellent piece of science writing, a book called Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, by Mary Roach, in which the author investigates scientific efforts, historical and modern, to study the afterlife.  As a writer, she is hilarious, down-to-earth, and approaches things from a scientific, but open-minded perspective.  She’s got a bunch of other great books too.  And, no, this was not posted by Mary Roach or her publisher…  Just a fan.

  • http://profiles.google.com/fader2011 Alex Harman

    I have to give Fischer some credit — how often do philosophy professors manage to bring in five million dollar grants?  And it’s a better reason for UCR (where I got my M.S.) to be in the news than the other recent event tangentially related to it: James Holmes, the Aurora mass-murderer, did his undergraduate work there.  Also, there’s at least a chance Fischer will produce a paper concluding that NDE’s do not offer any persuasive evidence of and afterlife, in which case the Templetonians will have wasted their five megabucks — and they won’t even be able to complain about it.

    If anyone in the UCR philosophy department was going to get a huge grant like this, though, I’d rather have seen it go to the environmental ethicist and explicator of political liberalism Ernest Partridge.

  • 3lemenope

    @Patterrssonn:disqus , from below.

    The woo marker for me is the use of the new age phrase “other pathways to verify truth”. If Guest isn’t referring to woo, what are they referring to?

    All the other ways everyone uses to determine truth to a reasonable degree of certainty in our lives. We don’t use science to determine whether our spouse loves us, or whether a movie is worth watching, or picking the aesthetic components of our meals, or which political ideology (if any) to support, or uncountably other realms of daily life. Science is a set of tools for a limited range of purposes; rigorous empirical investigation for the purposes of elucidating that which lends itself to quantitative analysis, such as the physical properties of the universe and the stuff in it, the physical mechanics of chemical reactions and life processes, the measurable qualities of societies and persons. Science is not a hammer for every nail, and nobody uses it that way.

    Now, because of peculiarities inherent to science, in its effective range the conclusions produced using its method are highly reliable and yield an astonishing amount of instrumental efficacy (i.e. the conclusions are extremely useful). But it is fairly useless at producing reliable conclusions about any of the things I listed above and much more, and so we use “other pathways to verify truth” in those areas. I suspect that Guest would like to add religion to that list of “other pathways”, and I don’t really think I need to go into the many reasons why I think (and most others here think) that religion is a poor and painfully sub-optimal way to reach conclusions in any of those areas. If Guest thinks the argument opens significant space up for woo, then he’s/she’s wrong. But you are also wrong if you think there is no way besides science to reliably generate true observations and hypotheses.

  • George

    You can be an atheist and still consider the possibility of an afterlife.  There is evidence (from non religious sources) that individual consciousness may have survived or found a way of communicating with the living. Obviously it’s going to take a while to systematically work your way through this material but nevertheless some of this stuff is intriguing. I’m not a supporter of either of these websites I’m only drawing your attention to them as they bring the material together into one place and makes a useful framework for systematic investigation. 

    http://www.quakerfellowshipforafterlifestudies.co.uk/bibliography/index.htmhttp://www.victorzammit.com/evidence/

  • http://www.facebook.com/ian.kerry.7 Ian Kerry

    It is a complrete fallacy that there no evidence for the afferlife.

    https://sites.google.com/site/chs4o8pt/summary_of_evidence

  • John Martin Fischer

    Well, thank you all for your interest in my project! I myself am an atheist. I wonder however just how “friendly” some of you folks are!

    Rather than ranting (or venting), please allow me to point out that the grant’s purpose is NOT to prove (or disprove) the existence of an afterlife. The grant is very broad in its scope. Within this scope is much that is purely secular–about longevity, “transhumanism”, mind-uploading, issues about whether living forever would be choiceworthy, and so forth. The grant is not essentially or fundmanentally about religious conceptions of an afterlife, although that set of issues is also within the purview of the grant.

    So, even if there were decisive evidence against the existence of an afterlife or even if it is obvious that NDEs provide no evidence of an afterlife, there is much that is fascinating and important within the purview of the grant–much that would be of interest to an atheist, and to many of your readers, in my opinion.

    Check us out, and don’t base your judgments on short snippets from public announcements; sptimmortalityproject.com

    We will be announcing the first round of major grants in June!

    To Ernie Partridge, my old friend and colleague: if someone else had put forward a proposal to the Templeton Foundation–a proposal in environmental ethics–perhaps they would have funded it too! They are open-minded. But I guess they can’t be faulted for not funding a project that is not submitted!

    Finally: thanks again to all of you. I have read your comments carefully. It is great that you are interested in the grant. But I *would* prefer it if you were a bit more fully informed about the grant, before jumping to conclusions.

  • abc

    It is not difficult to understand that we are not the body. One knows that intuitively.
    However cases demonstrating clairvoyance or telekinesis(one girl was able to read after being blindfolded-telecast on TV India) may be studied to see that there is something beyond the bodily organs that is operating at least in such cases. This could prove(which should have been understood by now even otherwise) that things are not always what they appear to be and there may be many phenomena as yet undiscovered .One cannot logically exclude these possibilities.

  • Thomas Stewart

    I don’t know 5 million is a lot of money to ask people what they saw when close to death. I would think a more scientific approach would be the “hard evidence,” a lot of us are looking for. For example if when we do die and our “soul” leaves our body we would have to be some type of transmutation of energy so developing technology to see souls or even the “other side” would be more practical, maybe they should have given the money to MIT’s engineering department. I still book marked the immortality project website in 2012 but I do not believe we will see any findings until the end of 2014.


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